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Launch Vehicle

Launch Vehicle 

The Curiosity rover launched on a two-stage Atlas V-541 launch vehicle, provided by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.
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The Atlas V-541

The Atlas V-541 

The Atlas V-541 with the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft stands 191 feet (58 meters) tall. That's as tall as a 19 story building.
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Why Do You Need A Large Rocket?

Why Do You Need A Large Rocket? 

A launch vehicle provides the velocity needed by a spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity and set it on its course for Mars.
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Choosing a Launch Vehicle

Choosing a Launch Vehicle 

When mission planners are considering different launch vehicles, they take into consideration how much mass each launch vehicle can lift into space.
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Selecting the Atlas V

Selecting the Atlas V 

The Atlas V-541 vehicle was selected for the Mars Science Laboratory mission because it has the right liftoff capability for the heavy weight requirements.
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One Big Rocket!

One Big Rocket! 

Fully fueled, with the spacecraft, the Atlas V-541 rocket weighs 1.17 million pounds (531,000 kilograms). That’s about 14 big rigs, fully loaded with cargo.
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Other Missions Used Similar Rocket

Other Missions Used Similar Rocket 

Rockets in the same family as the one carrying Curiosity have successfully lifted NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the New Horizons mission and most recently, the Juno spacecraft.
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Rocket Only Used Once

Rocket Only Used Once 

Atlas V rockets are expendable launch vehicles (ELVs), which means they are only used once.
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Rocket Parts

Rocket Parts 

The three numbers in the 541 designation signify a payload fairing, or nose cone, that is approximately 16.4 feet (5 meters) in diameter; four solid-rocket boosters fastened alongside the central common core booster; and a one-engine Centaur upper stage.
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Stages of Launch

Stages of Launch 

This launch is comprised of two primary stages or steps. The first stage is firing the common booster. This is what powers the engine into Earth orbit.
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Stages of Launch

Stages of Launch 

The four solid rocket boosters add thrust to this first stage.
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Centaur Upper Stage

Centaur Upper Stage 

The next step is the Centaur upper stage, which is used to accelerate the spacecraft out of Earth orbit and on its way to Mars.
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A launch vehicle provides the velocity needed by a spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity and set it on its course for Mars.

 

Launch Vehicle Quick Facts

Launch Vehicle Type:
Atlas V-541

Height with payload:
191 feet (58 meters)

Mass, fully fueled, with spacecraft on top:
About 1.17 million pounds (531,000 kilograms)

Launch Details ››


Mars Science Laboratory Will Launch on an Atlas V 541
When mission planners are considering different launch vehicles, what they take into consideration is how much mass each launch vehicle can lift into space.

A two-stage Atlas V-541 launch vehicle will lift the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The vehicle is provided by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

The Atlas V-541 vehicle was selected for the Mars Science Laboratory mission because it has the right liftoff capability for the heavy weight requirements and rockets in the same family have successfully lifted NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and New Horizons missions.

Details on the Launch Vehicle

Atlas V rockets are expendable launch vehicles (ELVs), which means they are only used once. The three numbers in the 541 designation signify a payload fairing, or nose cone, that is approximately 5 meters (16.4 feet) in diameter; four solid-rocket boosters fastened alongside the central common core booster; and a one-engine Centaur upper stage.

Mars Science Laboratory's Launch Vehicle Diagram .jpg
Mars Science Laboratory's Launch Vehicle Diagram

The major elements of the Atlas V-541 rocket that will be used for the MSL mission are:

Stage 1: Atlas V Rocket Stage 1: Atlas V Rocket: Fuel and oxygen tanks that feed an engine for the ascent; powers spacecraft into Earth orbit.
Solid Rocket Motors Solid Rocket Motors: Used to increase engine thrust; 4 total.
Stage 2: Centaur Stage 2: Centaur: Fuel and oxidizer and the vehicle's "brains"; fires twice, once to insert the vehicle-spacecraft stack into low Earth orbit and then again to accelerate the spacecraft out of Earth orbit and on its way towards Mars.
Payload Fairing Payload Fairing Thin composite or nose cone to protect the spacecraft during the ascent through Earth's atmosphere.

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